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There is no getting around some things – sweltering summer heat for example, or being stuck somewhere we would rather not be. What happens in our lives simply cannot be made to behave exactly the way we would like all of the time, or even very much of the time! Of course far more cruel and unfair things happen besides high temperatures or living somewhere you don’t want to for a few months. Part of being human is learning how to heal old hurts, and how to best respond to fresh challenges.

Whether we get thrown off balance or find a cooler way of handling such things depends largely on the state of our nervous system. Your nervous system – including the spinal cord, the brain and all the nerves in your body – has a huge influence not just on how the brain communicates with the rest of the body, making sure all the different aspects of the body work in harmony; it also has a massive impact on how you feel and your mood and outlook. So if you can do anything helpful for the nervous system, you will really be doing something for the quality of your life. 

The nervous system controls things like heart rate and sweating. It does this without us needing to be aware. Breathing is also usually controlled automatically this way. The magical thing about breathing is that it works the other way too: control your breath and you change your nervous system.

Tuning into the breath and gently allowing each breath to lengthen allows the body to rest, to cool down, and to heal. You can explore this with a simple breathing exercise


  • If possible, breathe through your nose;
  • Take some rest breaths between each step;
  • Breathe slowly, gradually filling and emptying your lungs;
  • You can try this exercise lying down too.


  • Do not do this if you feel unwell, have a respiratory condition or blocked nose;
  • If you feel dizzy, short of breath or unwell, stop and rest;
  • Do not overdo it – try once a day for 5 to 10 minutes.

When you are controlling your breath or just paying attention to it without controlling it, you can let go of thinking and just ‘be’ the breath. The power that it can unlock – to heal, to cool, to wake us up – gets stronger the more we focus on it and let go of thinking about anything else.

You can listen and follow along to yoga and meditation three times a week on National Prison Radio (through your TV). Tune in to ‘Freedom inside’ at 3pm on Fridays, 8am and 5pm on Sundays.

If you would like a free book, CD or DVD to help you, and a friendly letter, write to: The Prison Phoenix Trust, PO Box 328, Oxford OX2 7HF. Please include your name, prison number, wing and name of prison. We look forward to hearing from you – and will always write back to you.


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